R&D And Innovation, A Patent Failure In Latin America

In spite of dynamic consumer figures, Latin America lags when it comes to investment in research and development, those crucial agents of social and economic development.

Tech Cocktail conference in Buenos Aires
Tech Cocktail conference in Buenos Aires
Georgy Llorens


SANTIAGO — The official registration of intellectual property is fundamental for innovation, because it offers a guarantee for innovators that they can, at least for a while, protect their inventions, brands or designs. It is a reward for developing something new.

Analyzing the data on intellectual property registration is interesting, since every patent can conceivably becomes a product, service or brand; looking at today's intangible information helps anticipate tomorrow's actual innovations on the market.

The World Intellectual Property Organization (WIPO) publishes its main statistics on Intellectual Property (IP) annually. Its IP Facts and Figures 2016 had some telling comparative information on Asia and Latin America. Four big IP categories are analyzed every year: the numbers of patents, brands, designs and utility models, which are similar to patents but are less strict and offer protection for a shorter period.

Nearly 2.9 million patents were issued worldwide in 2016, which is 207,900 more than the previous year, representing a 7.9% increase.

While globally the growth is encouraging, a closer look shows that China registered the most patents, with 38.1% of the world total, ahead of the United States, which had 20.4% of registrations, Japan with 11%, South Korea with 7.4% and Europe with 5.5%.

For the entire region of Latin America, the 20 countries south of the U.S. border, including Mexico and Brazil, there was a total of 2.2% of all registrations, or 62,403 of the 2,888,800 patents issued last year. Of these, 77% came from Brazil and Mexico, leaving the 18 remaining states with 0.49% of last year's patent registrations worldwide.

These numbers show that Latin America remains very far from transforming innovation into a pillar of social development, and sadly, this is not likely to change in the near future. With so few patent registrations, very few of the products and services to reach the market in the coming years will be Latin American.

Member countries of the Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) invest an average of 2.4% of their gross domestic product in research and development. The biggest pro capita investor is South Korea with 4.3% of its annual GDP spent on R&D, followed by Israel, with 4.1%, and Japan, with 3.6%. The two Latin American OECD members are at the bottom of the list: Mexico is second to last, with 0.5% and Chile is last, with 0.38%.

The Latin American country that spends the largest portion of its GDP chunk on R&D is Brazil, with 1.2%. None of the other countries in the region invest more than 0.5%. This, to say the least, is not promising for the region's future.

Also, in OECD countries, 70% of investment in innovation comes from companies, while in Latin America, only 40% of companies invest in innovation.

A first step toward changing this would be to encourage universities and companies to work together on R&D, by offering tax incentives, competitive funding, rights protections and training to produce flexible professionals with necessary skills.

It can't all be left to the private sector

It can't all be left to the private sector, since investing in R&D has its risks and can affect short-term profits. Executives who are evaluated based on their annual performance might be reluctant to invest in research, even if they know its medium-term benefits.

The region's great challenge is to allocate more resources for investment in R&D, to steer more professionals in the direction of innovation, and then to protect their inventions through patent registration.

States should encourage more people to pursue careers in the sciences, humanities and creative sector. Unfortunately, at least in Latin America, a large proportion of students choose management courses, which focus mainly on increasing efficiency, but do not generate innovations. We need more people to create and research.

From a macroeconomic point of view, this is like a large value chain, which would give our countries new products and services. The chain includes creativity, but also the mechanisms to finance, develop and protect innovations, and carry them forth onto global markets.

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How Thailand's Lèse-Majesté Law Is Used To Stifle All Protest

Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.

Pro-Democracy protest at The Criminal Court in Bangkok, Thailand

"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.

Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.

But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.

The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."

Criticism of any 'royal project'

The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.

Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.

In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.

photo of graffiti of 112 crossed out on sidewalk

Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release

Peerapon Boonyakiat/SOPA Images via ZUMA Wire

Freedom of speech at stake

"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."

The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.

The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.

Activist in front of democracy monument in Thailand.

Shift to social media

While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.

The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.

Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".

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